Preschool near Gaza border resilient after mortar shelling

Less than an hour before children were due to arrive at a kindergarten in southern Israel on Monday morning,
Shrapnel was scattered across the area, the exterior walls sustained damage, and a tree was hit. But fortunately, the kindergarten was vacant.

Despite the close call, the message that kindergarten teacher Tovah Ludmer Gigi was keen to convey to the children was that their kindergarten is the safest place they can be.

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“I told them that the kindergarten is the most protected place,” she told reporters outside the preschool, stressing the difference between the yard and the preschool building. “They know that if there is any danger while they are at home, they run to a shelter; here, the whole kindergarten is fortified.”

“We started the morning in a very strange way,” Ludmer Gigi said. “I heard very strong booms already from my kibbutz… then I got a phone call from my assistant, who said she was on the way to the preschool, and there were a lot of mortars and Code Red, and she laid down on the floor.

“Afterward, I understood that a shell really had fallen here in the yard, and there was a lot of shrapnel. Branches fell, and I understand that one person was lightly wounded [unconnected to the preschool]. In the meantime, the other assistant also arrived and I told parents not to come out,” Ludmer Gigi said.

While the preschool and security authorities initially told children to stay home, almost all of them later went to the kindergarten, where they had a group discussion with their teachers and psychologists about their experiences that morning.

They even spoke with President Reuven Rivlin, who called them while they were having breakfast.

“I wish you a nice and quiet day, with a lot of games and stories, with your amazing kindergarten teacher and all the toys that you have and the studies you are learning,” he told the children, extending an invitation for them to visit him at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

“Thank you for the warm invitation. I think it would be amazing,” the teacher responded.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett also spoke with the preschool teacher, saying afterwards: “I was impressed by the calm and quiet leadership of the kindergarten teacher, Tovah. The situation was managed in an orderly fashion and without panic. A difference of a few minutes and there could have been a big disaster here, which was prevented by a miracle. I want to support the residents of the Gaza Strip and to say clearly to our enemy on the border: A violation of the quiet will be met with a tough response.”

MEANWHILE, Ramit Degani, a mother from Moshav Dekel, spoke about her despair at the unstable situation. Talking to Radio 103 FM, she said it was “not an easy morning.”

“We are getting on with our routine, and I’m trying to understand what exactly [that] routine is,” Degani said. “The morning began with all of my children in the shelter; my six-year-old daughter didn’t understand what was happening. She took her dog to the shelter and then after that had to go to kindergarten and continue with her daily routine. It’s not clear to me how we can continue living this way in this area, where it’s not clear what will be tomorrow, or in one hour, or in one minute.”

“To wake up in the morning to the sound of a siren is not a pleasant feeling,” she said. As head of the emergency team in her moshav, Degani said she has to answer a lot of questions in addition to the questions of her own children asking, “Why is this happening? “This experience is traumatic and not normal,” she said.

Degani moved to the moshav after the 1982 evacuation of the Yamit settlement in the Sinai Peninsula’s northern region, in accordance with the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

“We evacuated our house in exchange for peace,” she said.

“This situation throws me back to the days of Operation Protective Edge. The pressure and uncertainty have come back to me… I’m trying to stay strong; my children don’t need to see me losing control.”

Another resident of the South, Guy Tiomkin of Yad Mordechai, said he and his neighbors are accustomed to such situations and were not flustered by the barrages of mortar fire. “We are following instructions. We are staying close to shelters, and we are ready for anything,” he told Channel 2 News.

Tiomkin said many of the residents of the moshav live there out of choice and “know where we are living.”

“Of course, for the children it’s not pleasant, and that’s the most important thing [to deal with] at the moment,” he said.